Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image and Identity

28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008

Matthew Gabriele, Remembering the Future: Charlemagne, Last Emperor, and the Response to the First Crusade

Throughout Europe, the Franks fondly remembered their Charlemagne.  His reign was thought to have been a Golden Age, a time of peace and prosperity, during which they ruled an empire encompassing almost all of the Christian world – even including, so it was often thought in the eleventh century, Jerusalem.  But since the late eighth century the Franks also knew of another emperor, later said by Adso of Montier-en-Der’s immensely popular tenth-century tract on the antichrist to be one of their own, whose reign would unite all Christianity and whose dominion would extend across the entire Mediterranean world.  This Last Emperor was yet to arrive though, only to appear just before the events described in Revelations in order to prepare the world for the Second Coming.  During the eleventh century, these two legends began to fuse.  Past connected to future, Charlemagne to Last Emperor. 

This paper will explain how the Charlemagne and Last Emperor legends came together, what that fusion meant, and how, as they joined together, the legends provided fertile ground for Urban II’s message to take root.  The Charlemagne legend before the twelfth century was never so much about the man himself.  So too the legend of the Last Emperor.  These militant legends were more about those who followed these leaders (the Franks).  By asking the Franks to liberate the Holy Land, the crusade called on them to take up their privileged place in sacred history by retaking Jerusalem from the enemies of Christ, thus recreating what once was and prefiguring what was to come.


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